Video: China Test-Launches Hypersonic Missile From a Warship

A test launch of a munition with the proportions of a YJ-21 anti-ship ballistic missile (PLA Navy)

Published Apr 19, 2022 7:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

The PLA Navy has released what appears to be the first video footage of a hypersonic missile launch from a Chinese warship, a Type 055 cruiser. 

Naval analyst H.I. Sutton has identified the missile in the video as a YJ-21 hypersonic anti-ship ballistic missile, a relative of the CM-401. The Type 055 has 112 VLS cells, suggesting that it could carry a substantial hypersonic arsenal in a high-end fight. 

The PLA also released video footage of an H-6 heavy bomber carrying the same weapon.

The previous generation CM-401 is a short-range missile with a maneuverable reentry vehicle, and it has been seen in public before, beginning with an appearance at the Zhuhai Airshow in 2018. At the time, manufacturer CASIC suggested that the weapons system could be mounted on a ship like the PLAN's Type 055 cruiser - the vessel class seen in the newly-released photos. 

The missile has a range of at least 180 miles using a "skip-glide" flight path. This means that it goes nearly straight up in the initial phase of flight, then skips off the atmosphere one or more times on re-entry, converting its downward momentum into horizontal travel. This creates an irregular flight path and gives the reentry vehicle an opportunity to change course while in motion, making it harder to intercept. 

On terminal approach, the CM-401 arrives on target at speeds of up to Mach 6. Like other hypersonic munitions, speed makes it exceptionally difficult to intercept, and the U.S. Navy is hard at work on counter-hypersonic systems to reduce its vulnerability.

The U.S. does not currently have a missile equivalent to the CM-401. The Navy is working with the U.S. Army on a joint hypersonic-missile system, Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS), which will be launched from land, ship-based and submarine platforms. In the meantime, the service does have a range advantage for ship-launched weapons: the Tomahawk Block Va and Vb cruise missiles can reach out to more than 1,000 nm, though they are subsonic and are easier to defeat.